Juliana Longo offers volunteer worker Cheryl Keen assistance during the spring cleanup at Hartman Rock Garden. Brett Turner/Contributed

Check out this hidden Springfield gem this summer

The peak season for gardens is here and the Hartman Rock Garden remains as steady as the rocks it’s built on and progressive all at once.

The American folk art site located at 1905 Russell Ave. is always in season, open 365 days a year. Spurred by the annual spring cleanup, a new conservator, upcoming activities and restorations, 2017 has a particularly fresh feel.

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“We’re constantly under conveyance, moving it back to Ben and Mary Hartman’s vision,” said Kevin Rose, member of the Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden.

Begun in 1932 as a way to stay busy after being laid off in the heart of the Great Depression, Ben Hartman created a world of handmade structures and figurines, from historical and religious to pop culture and even local landmarks.

Since 2010, the rock garden has drawn curious visitors from around the world. Rose said if people have seen it once, a return visit should reveal new items or restorations, part of an ongoing effort.

He points to the recent restoration of the Betsy Ross house as an example and mentioned the Noah’s Ark and Lincoln’s cabin structures as future projects.

In April, the garden welcomed its third conservator in residence. Fernando Romero, a native of El Salvador, was chosen for the position.

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An Antioch University graduate and employee of Itinerant Studio in Springfield, he stays in the residence and keeps the garden in prime condition.

“To wake up every morning and see the back yard is a great way to start the day,” Romero said. “It’s a joy to come home from work each day and get moving on the garden.”

Romero was an ideal pick, Rose said, because he wasn’t scared of the work of keeping the garden in top condition.

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A quartet of visitors from Cincinnati stopped by the rock garden after visiting Yellow Springs one recent Saturday. One couple was especially intrigued as their names were Hartmann and the man’s mother is named Mary.

New local generations are also discovering the attraction. A Girl Scout troop volunteered for the spring cleanup as a service project.

Girl Scout Leighton Springer just finished kindergarten the previous day but was still learning from the rock garden.

“It’s really nice. I like the castle and the White House,” she said.

Rose said there are two upcoming dates that will showcase the rock garden at its best. They’re trying to finalize doing a Flag Day event on June 14 with an emphasis on the patriotic figurines and structures.

The other is the annual TchotchkePalooza open house on July 22, which trots out figurines that normally aren’t on view, including several pop culture figures from Hartman’s day.

“That’s the best time to see everything like Ben Hartman intended,” Rose said. “It’s one of the best days for us as the garden is filled with people.”

A long-term goal is an interpretation plan to give the most effective tour of the garden to see the more than 100 objects through volunteer guides. Rose hopes to make that effective in 2018.

The site always welcomes financial contributions and more volunteers to keep it going. For more information on Hartman Rock Garden, go to www.hartmanrockgarden.org/index.html.

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